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Interview: Disappears

| September 1, 2013
Disappears by Zoran Orlic

Disappears – photo by Zoran Orlic

Disappears: Stuck On Repeat

We all try to present the best version of ourselves when encountering new acquaintances. Don’t let on to the prospective employer that bedtime usually falls on the opposite side of 3 a.m. and tone down the clingy habits until the newest flame has seen the secret drawer of granny panties and not fled.

With its fourth album in as many years, Era (Kranky), Chicago’s Disappears cruise into the comfort zone with a take it or leave it attitude. Where the minimalistic motorik foursome unveiled various facets of its personality gradually through the butter-churn of 2011’s Guider, the repetitious riffs of 2012’s Pre Language, and the noisy drone of 2013’s Kone EP, this latest installment lays the prolific group bare.

Pre Language . . . was like [an] open door. Like, ‘Hey, come inside.’ I think the songs were pretty easy to digest and it was an easy introduction to our band, and this one just feels like it came from somewhere else,” frontman Brian Case says on a rainy afternoon from a cozy nook in Ch’ava, a Ravenswood café close to the home he shares with his wife and two kids.

Dressed in a navy Lacoste polo and skinny-ish jeans, the mop-topped graphic designer by day looks like a cross between Brendan Benson and John Hawkes and speaks in an easy cadence that shows no signs of the boogeyman dripping from the band’s “Twilight Zone” landscapes.

“The first song on the record [“Girl”] is probably the most abrasive thing this band has done, and I think the first song on Pre Language is probably the most accessible thing we’ve done,” Case explains before pantomiming how an eager fan might react to Era. His nose crunched up in disgust says it all: spilled sour milk. Not that he cares. “The music we make is strictly for us, and if people want to come along that’s awesome. I hope they do,” he prefaces. “But, if they don’t, it’s still for us. We’re still into [it] and we’re happy with it.”

The 36-year-old former guitarist for defunct local luminaries 90 Day Men and the Ponys might be selling his followers short. Era indeed requires patience, but the seven-track affair offers pockets of hypnotic bliss. “Ultra” is Bowie-meets-Blue Man Group with an unrelenting mantra (“If you go, I’ll go”) that’s both threat and promise while the volcanic drums on the title track seduce the closest thing in Disappears’ catalog to a hummable refrain. And “Girl,” that psychedelic noise collage Case warns will be the subject of much derision, is deliciously paranoid.

A few factors contributed to Era‘s turn for the gruesome. Producer John Congleton sits at the top of the list. “He is one of my best friends; I’ve known him forever, but he has a very dark sense of humor and he loves dark music and he knows I share some of those qualities with him,” Case suggests. “He’s like, “I’m gonna make this, like, really fucking weird and dark,’ and we were like, ‘O.K.’ We gave him full creative control.” The band’s sterile surroundings also infiltrated the mood. “It was in winter. It was in Electrical Audio, like the B Studio is this huge silo – just this huge concrete room – and we were just in this room for 12 hours a day,” Case remembers. “It just felt, like, closed in.”

The addition of drummer Noah Leger served as the final piece of this abrasive puzzle. After Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley amicably departed (he joined in 2010 and eventually needed a breather from his near-constant touring schedule – “He knew we were ready to get working and he was ready to chill out for a while,” Case explains), the band toyed with not filling the spot at all. “We were sitting on these weird songs and we were like, ‘Man, how are we gonna do this?’ Finally, we were like, ‘This band needs a drummer.’ This band is not a drum machine band,” Case proclaims. “We need a drummer to push us. This band is about momentum, and so we all wanted to ask Noah. He was everybody’s first choice.”

The one constant in the life of Disappears is the band’s reliance on repetition. When writing, Case, Leger, and bassist Damon Carruesco and guitarist Jonathan Van Herik always try to locate the “heartbeat” that pulsates throughout a song even if it’s just an easily forgotten murmur. Case slaps his palm on the table at equal intervals to drive the point home. A ravenous appetite for songs where things happen yet the basic form remains unchanged shoved Case towards structuring his own material in the same ticking time-bomb way. “I was like, ‘Why do I have to write three parts for this song, because I’m coming up with one really easily or naturally that sounds good and I like it, and I’d rather just play that the whole time,'” he says. “Or, just like hearing songs and loving the one part and being like, ‘Man, I could listen to this part for an hour.’ So that’s the kind of music I’d rather play.”

Case admits the redundancy can drive some people nuts, but watch out when a roomful of like-minded souls latches on. “I think the people that get into that, you can really connect with them and in a room – like a dark rock club, Empty Bottle or whatever, that sized club anywhere in the world – there’s enough people there and you can get that hypnosis going and the repetition, and you can completely control the whole room and it’s awesome,” he swears. “It’s easier to do that than stopping every three and a half minutes and being like ‘Ahhhright!’

The band refrains from going to extremes like Jack White in setting perimeters for sport, but does follow a rulebook of sorts. “Less rules, more just things to keep in mind,” Case clarifies. “Think about less is more. Think about maybe you don’t need all those notes; maybe you can cut your part in half.”

Sounds like an exercise in musical modesty. “It’s made me listen differently and think differently about lots of things, and I think it’s totally helped this band be significantly better than we would have been,” Case says.

He attributes learning a bunch of cover songs for a New Year’s Eve show at the Empty Bottle two years ago to opening his ears to the benefits of keeping it minimal. “We picked all these like Wire, Kinks [songs] – pretty broad spectrum of stuff – and we realized half the songs are exactly the same. And these are, like, great songs and you realize . . . once you strip it down this is like a three-chord song and that is the same three chords in a different order. It was so cool,” Case admits. “We just learned it’s harder to be simple and direct.”

No pain, no gain.

Appearing: 9/20 at Empty Bottle.

– Janine Schaults

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